The role of compulsive social media use and distraction in adolescent daily social media use

Lucija Šutić1, Miranda Novak, PhD1, Josipa Mihić, PhD1, Darko Roviš, PhD2

1 Laboratory for Prevention Research, Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Zagreb

2 Faculty of Medicine, University of Rijeka, and Teaching Public Health Institute of Primorsko-goranska county

The following research work was presented at the 14th EUSPR Conference, which took place in Sarajevo in 2023. It was part of the presentation of the project titled ‘Testing the 5C model of positive youth development – traditional and digital mobile assessment, UIP – 2020 – 02 – 2852,’ funded by the Croatian Science Foundation and highlighted in the session titled ‘The potential of the 5C model of positive youth development in planning prevention strategies.

Compulsive social media use, defined as the inability to control consumption of social media content, appears to be related to problematic learning outcomes, social media fatigue, and higher levels of depression and anxiety. When it comes to daily life, studies suggest that self-control failure, i.e., inability to suppress automatic behavioural tendencies, is positively associated with social media use in most adolescents (Siebers et al., 2021). Daily life methods, such as an ambulatory assessment, involve multiple assessments per day over an extended period of time. Due to the nature of data collection, daily life methods maximise ecological validity, minimise recall bias, and allow researchers to examine between-person and within-person associations. Therefore, the aim of this paper was to examine whether compulsive social media use at the between-person level and distraction at both the between-person and within-person levels predict objectively measured daily social media use.

The eight-day mobile study was conducted as part of the research project Testing the 5C framework of positive youth development: traditional and digital mobile assessment (P.R.O.T.E.C.T.). A total of 102 first grade high school students (Mage = 15; SD = .42) participated in this study, 64% of whom were female. Half of the students attended grammar school, and the other half attended vocational school. Before the mobile study, participants completed an adapted version of The Compulsive Internet Use Scale (Jovičić Burić et al., 2021) in which Internet was replaced with social media. During the mobile study, they rated on a 5-point scale how distracted they felt in the moment, while passive social media use data was collected from their smartphones.

Multilevel structural modelling was used to detect the effects of compulsive social media use and failure of self-control, operationalised as distraction, on use of Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, and messaging apps. Interestingly, results suggest that both variables predict Instagram use only, i.e., that adolescents who report more compulsive social media use spend more time on Instagram, but that time spent on Instagram is longer on days when they feel less distracted. Although Siebers et al. (2022) found a positive within-person correlation between social media use and failure of self-control, this correlation occurred in 52% of adolescents, while a negative correlation occurred in 1% and no correlation in 47% of adolescents. This raises the question of whether distraction is a bad thing (e.g. being distracted from schoolwork) or a good thing, i.e. a way of coping with stress. It is also possible that young people’s perception of time spent on social media differs from the objectively measured time. To summarise, not all social media is created equal and how young people use social media may be more important than how much time they spend on it.

About the Author, Lucija Šutić

Lucija Šutić is a PhD student in the Postgraduate Programme in Preventive Sciences at the Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Zagreb and is currently working on the project Testing the 5C framework of positive youth development: traditional and digital mobile assessment. She received her master’s degree in psychology at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Zagreb and was awarded the Rector’s award for scientific work as a student. Her scientific interests include positive youth development, friendships and romantic relationships in adolescence and early adulthood, and the application of daily life methods in research.

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